The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 7: How to Exercise
March 6, 2002
Aerobic versus Anaerobic
In addition to a healthy diet, the other important requirement I recall you mentioning is exercise.
Yes, that is the other primary consideration.
If I jog a few times a week, is that good enough?
Jogging is certainly a satisfactory form of exercise. It is not the ideal exercise to start out with, for reasons I will discuss in a moment.
What form of exercise do you recommend?
First, it is important to distinguish between aerobic exercise, which literally means “with oxygen,” and anaerobic exercise, which involves a high-intensity activity that can only be sustained in short bursts. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming, cycling, rowing, and cross-country skiing. Any aerobic exercise is very beneficial in terms of significantly lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other diseases, as well as providing immediate benefits in terms of weight loss, reduced hypertension, improved sleep, and better mood. Regular aerobic exercise can also reduce elevated triglyceride levels and can boost the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.1
Examples of anaerobic exercise include sprinting, forms of calisthenics, weightlifting, basketball, and tennis.
Tennis is not aerobic exercise?
No, not really. There is some cardiac benefit from the significant exertion involved in a sport like tennis, but it is not an optimal form of aerobic exercise. I would consider these types of sports more as supplements to a regular aerobic exercise program, not the primary component of one.
Aerobic exercise is activity which requires movement of the large upper or lower body muscles continuously in a regular rhythm for at least twenty minutes. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and your demand for oxygen but is sustainable for an extended period of time. During aerobic exercise, you should be at your training heart rate.
Training heart rate?
Training Heart Rate
The training heart-rate range is between 65 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can estimate as 220 less your age.2 So, for example, if you are 40 years of age, your theoretical maximum heart rate is 180, and your training heart-rate range would be between 117 and 153 beats per minute.
How do I determine my heart rate?
The best way is to obtain a sports watch that provides a pulse readout. Then you do not need to stop your exercise to determine your heart rate. Otherwise, you need to briefly interrupt your exercise and count your pulse for fifteen seconds, then multiply this figure by four. It is important to take your pulse as soon as you stop exercising, because your heart rate will slow down immediately. Once you have estimated your heart rate, continue your exercise routine.
So what’s the best form of aerobic exercise?
The ideal aerobic exercise is walking. It’s simple. Virtually everyone knows how to do it. You can do it most anywhere. You should have little difficulty elevating your heart rate into your training range on a sustained basis. It does not put undue strain on any of your joints. It is an excellent form of low impact aerobic exercise.
Is that all there is to it-you just walk?
There is nothing unusual about the style or technique of walking required. There are, however, some considerations we should discuss in establishing a safe and effective exercise program.
First, you should consult your physician before starting any regular exercise program. Your doctor can advise you on any special considerations with regard to your physical condition and health. This is essential if you have indications of heart disease or other serious illness.
Exercise Stress Test
In addition, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that certain people undergo an exercise stress test before starting an exercise program as one way of screening for heart disorders, including advanced atherosclerosis.3 They recommend a stress test prior to starting an exercise program if you are (1) age 45 or over, or (2) between 35 and 44 and have at least one risk factor for coronary artery disease (such as an immediate family member who developed coronary artery disease before age 50, if you are obese, if you smoke, have high blood pressure, or a high cholesterol level), or (3) at any age and have cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. If you are under 45, appear to be in good health, and do not have any of these risk factors for coronary artery disease, then you do not need this test, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
What is an exercise stress test?
It is an electrocardiogram (ECG) administered for ten to fifteen minutes while you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Your blood pressure and pulse are also continually monitored. The difficulty of the exercise is progressively increased during the test. The test is stopped when you are too tired to continue, or if any symptoms are noted, such as an abnormally high blood pressure reading, abnormal pulse rate, shortness of breath, chest pain or other discomfort, or an abnormality in the ECG. There is some risk in a stress test, although this is minimal if administered properly by a trained health professional.
The test is far from perfect. About 10 to 20 percent of stress tests give false positives (incorrectly indicating a heart or artery abnormality) and 20 percent to 40 percent yield false negatives. Thus, the exercise stress test will not capture all instances of artery blockage, and any positive indications that it does provide need to be confirmed by further medical tests. Nonetheless, it can be a useful screening procedure that your doctor or fitness instructor may request you undergo before starting an exercise program.
All right, let’s say I’m ready to go. Now what?
The next step is to start. Begin slowly. The objective is to exercise on a regular basis, to build this activity into a predictable routine.
Endurance and the ability to perform more quickly and for longer periods of time will come naturally as your fitness improves.
It is important not to overdo it. You should feel like you are exerting yourself, but if you feel pain in your legs (shin splints, for example), then slow down and rest. If you ever feel pain in your chest, then stop immediately and consult your doctor, because you may be experiencing angina pain indicative of advanced atherosclerosis. (If the pain persists, you could be having a heart attack.)
It is also important to have the right walking shoes. Do not use ordinary sneakers or even running shoes. Obtain a good-quality pair of shoes designed specifically for walking.
How much do I need to do?
The results of an 8-year study reported in 1989 in the Journal of the American Medical Association are instructive in answering this question.4 The study divided the 13,344 participants into 5 fitness categories. Individuals in category 1 were sedentary and had no regular exercise program. Individuals in categories 2 and 3 were of medium fitness, which was achieved by walking 30 to 60 minutes per day, 4 to 5 times per week. Individuals in categories 4 and 5 were of high fitness and walked or ran 20 to 30 miles per week or more.
The results were unexpectedly dramatic, and there were significant gains between low and medium fitness, and again between medium and high fitness. The most significant gains were between low and medium fitness, indicating that even moderate regular exercise is of immense benefit. Overall death rates for the medium fitness group were 60 percent less than those of the low-fitness group. Death from cardiovascular disease for men was down by more than two-thirds. There was further benefit for both men and women in the high-fitness category, particularly with regard to cardiovascular disease.
Amount of Exercise
I would recommend the equivalent of walking 3 miles per day or more, 5 or more days per week, although even 4 days per week of regular aerobic exercise is of significant benefit. Once you gain some experience and fitness, this will require about 45 to 50 minutes for each session. Again, it is important to build up to these levels. If you are very out of shape, even walking l mile may be strenuous. So build up gradually, doing a bit more each day. Making a real and permanent commitment to a regular and predictable program is the most important step you can take.
So I just walk, building up to 15 or more miles per week.
The Five Phases of Exercise
It is a little more complicated than that. You should start out with a few minutes of stretching, which will help to reduce injuries, improve coordination and range of motion, and help to relax the body. The most important targets of stretching are the hamstrings, lower back, quadriceps, shins, calves, and Achilles tendons.
The second phase is warm-up, which involves walking at an easy pace, about 3 miles per hour, for a few minutes. This allows you to build momentum, thereby gradually reducing the stress on your muscles and on your heart.
The third phase, which should be the bulk of your exercise routine, is the aerobic phase in which you exercise sufficiently rigorously to bring your heart rate into your training range. This should last at least 20 minutes to obtain a training effect on your heart. In order to cover at least 15 miles per week (once you are sufficiently fit to do this), you will probably want to walk in your training range for 30 to 40 minutes each session. In general, you will need to walk at least 4 miles per hour in order to achieve your training heart rate range.
Following the aerobic phase is the fourth phase, cool-down, which is similar to warm-up. This allows your heart rate to return to normal gradually and prevents a pooling of blood in your legs and feet. Then the fifth and final phase is another several minutes of stretching to maintain limber joints, muscles, and tendons.
If I have difficulty getting into my training heart rate range by walking, are there any ways to make walking more intense?
Varieties of Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
Yes, there are a variety of ways. You can vigorously swing your arms, which will increase your heart rate and also boost your calorie consumption by 5 to 10 percent. You can do what is called interval walking, which is alternating several minutes of very brisk striding with several minutes of a more moderate pace. This also increases your heart rate and makes the activity more interesting. You can walk on sand if that is available to you, which can increase the calories expended by as much as 30 percent.
You can walk uphill. At a 10 percent incline, you nearly double your expenditure of calories. Of course, it is only in an Escher drawing that you can walk uphill indefinitely without ever going down. To achieve this in real life, I would suggest using a treadmill. The ultimate in walking uphill is stair climbing. You should be careful, however. Walking up metal or concrete stairs carries a high risk of serious injury. I would suggest one of the stair-climbing machines, which have become quite popular. By walking two steps per second, a 150-pound person can burn more than 1,000 calories per hour.
A very effective way to increase both heart rate and calorie consumption is by carrying hand weights. You should not use hand weights if you have heart disease, hypertension, or back problems of any kind. Use one or two-pound weights and a controlled pattern of arm movements. Do not swing the weights wildly.